Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

A Mourning Hollow
Tesseract Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's review of Angel Street


Jackie Zigler
Photo by Taylor Gruenloh
Imagine if Jules Feiffer, or Nichols & May were still writing—and had kept up with modern styles, of course.

And then imagine if those quirky geniuses had to grapple with what a big deal Halloween has turned into. They might have come up with nine vignettes like these, although these are also surprisingly subtle, and gentle, and even impressionistic in tone, compared to what we got from Feiffer, and Nichols & May.

But they're funny and introspective too, which is where the 1960s references come in handy. And each of the nine deals with modern problems and relationships in crisis. On top of that (and just in time for Halloween), it's about what we're really afraid of, deep down, on a day-to-day basis. Not dismemberment, or buckets of pigs' blood, or headless horsemen. Just people losing the things they love, and people they can't live without. And not quite knowing, on their own, how to deal with the phantom pain of it all. But just then, All Hallow's Eve conjures up a sympathetic spirit to help each one.

Such spirits are not hard to find in the fictional town of Plains Hollow, Missouri, which just happens to be one of those places where Halloween is a very big deal indeed.

Ten authors wrote these tales, of venturing out from a darkened past, or in to a doubtful future. The stories, to them, become the stuff of unexpected campfire horrors (though they're not literally told around campfires, of course). Each is spun-out in such a personal, fumbling way, that the simplest confessions (about runaway pets or devastating disconnections) develop into treacherous personal landscapes, full of half-spoken lines, and throwaway truths.

And that's where the Feiffer/Nichols & May style emerges again, in a fumbling way, as the quiet jazz of comedy. All those searching, sometimes inarticulate moments aren't just some kind of "junk DNA" of the narrative, or mumble-corps comedy. And it's not just "method acting" merged into sketch. It's what we hope for from all artists—the transliteration of the soul into theater. Credit that to directors Taylor Gruenloh and Brittanie Gunn, and the writers, for trusting the actors.

Of course, most of the tales deal with the events of one specific Halloween night. But a few could happen any time, and turn unexpectedly dark and twisted: as when a police officer (Bre Love) visits an elderly woman (Mary Palazzola) after strange complaints from the neighbors. Still, even this one is surprisingly touching and tender, even when the horror is finally made clear, in a scene written by Kevin D. Ferguson.

In that case, maybe it's not the style of Feiffer, or Nichols & May, after all—maybe it's Rod Serling, in an unexpectedly gentle and occasionally sentimental mood.

In "You, Me, And Alice" a young husband and wife (Kelvin Urday and Katie Palazzola) wait for visitors to the town's antique graveyard, where the couple will provide a guided tour. And, in steps, a wound is revealed in their own household—and then healed when the wife finds a patron saint among the gravestones. Thanks to author Anne G'Fellers Mason, it's very sadly beautiful, and unmistakably suited to Halloween.

Elsewhere in Plains Hollow, Lily Dodenhoff appears out of nowhere as a blood-spattered zombie, where Maurice Walters II also happens to be, as someone looking for his girlfriend. In the midst of comical interruptions, they must grapple with a serious problem of self-awareness.

Author Eric Eisdon strikes as great a tone of intimacy and kindness in "Gracie and Cameron," in which two young people dressed as superheroes must confront their weaknesses—though it starts with a great, rueful joke about a cyber-dating young woman (Jackie Zigler) trying to find her cyber-date for Halloween (Mr. Urday), but accidentally reducing two or three other "superheroes" to tears in a lonely park that night.

It's unexpectedly fresh and charming. Honestly, at first thought I couldn't sit through nine scenes, but by the second half, I was sadly counting down the few that were left.

Through November 8, 2015, at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar, across from the Pageant. For more information go to www.tesseracttheatre.org.

The Scenes

"Crepuscular Rays" by Taylor Gruenloh
Cast: Bre Love & Maurice Walters II

"Turtle Séance" by Caitlin McCommis
Cast: Michael McPartland & Mikayla Sherfy

"You, Me, and Alice" by Anne G'Fellers Mason
Cast: Katie Palazzola & Kelvin Urday

"Gracey & Cameron" by Eric Eidson
Cast: Kelvin Urday & Jackie Zigler

"Halloween Dance" by Laura King
Cast: Bre Love & Michael McPartland

"Finding Nina" by Liesl Ehmke
Cast: Lily Dodenhoff & Maurice Walters II

"Homebody" by Kevin D. Ferguson
Cast: Bre Love & Mary Palazzola

"On The Inside" by Wendy-Marie Martin
Cast: Mikayla Sherfy & Jackie Zigler

"Everybody Hurts" by Shane Strawbridge
Cast: Lily Dodenhoff & Chris Null

Artistic Crew
Directors: Taylor Gruenloh & Brittanie Gunn
Scenic Painting: Katie Palazzola
Light Board Operator: Jackie Chambers
Producing Assistant: Michael Henley


-- Richard T. Green


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